Transition Services for Justice-Involved Youth & Young Adults with Disabilities

By Abeer Sikder

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that between 30-60% of youth involved in the juvenile justice system have a disability. This means that of the 36,000 youth in juvenile facilities in 2019, around 10,000 to 22,000 of them were likely to have a disability. With so many incarcerated youth and young adults with disabilities, the juvenile justice system should be prepared to provide the accommodations and supports necessary for youth and young adults with disabilities in its care to access educational and workforce training opportunities.

To understand and promote the needs of justice-involved youth with disabilities transitioning into the workforce, the Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth), a grantee of Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, held a virtual roundtable onTransition Services for Justice-Involved Youth & Young Adults with Disabilities with the White House Office of Public Engagement on November 15, 2021. The roundtable discussion focused on understanding the lived experience of justice-involved youth and how the intersection of justice-involvement and disability impacts access to employment, education and more.

Participants included justice-involved youth, community based organizations, elected officials and public administrators in the juvenile justice, youth advocacy and disability rights space. Roundtable participants shared experiences, successes, system barriers and other challenges in serving justice-involved youths and young adults with disabilities.

Below are key themes from some of our guest speakers:

  • Sarai Cook, founder of the National Trauma Awareness Initiative, discussed her personal experience as a justice-involved youth with disabilities. She stressed the importance of supporting youth to better understand the justice system and their rights within it. She also suggested that state juvenile justice systems should proactively identify necessary accommodations for justice-involved youth with disabilities. 
  • Kathy Wright, Executive Director of the New Jersey Parents’ Caucus, emphasized the importance of engaging stakeholders, including youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system, and improving access to educational services: “Strategies and activities should be developed and delivered by those with lived experience who reside in the targeted community.”
  • State Senator Whitney Westerfield of Kentucky highlighted the connections between justice-involved youth and young adults and the resulting socioeconomic impact. He noted how the justice system and the lack of early support services predetermine the fate of future generations and can initiate future workforce problems throughout Kentucky and many other states.

This event will contribute to an upcoming report on transition services for justice-involved youth. The report will examine opportunities to increase the education and employment success of justice-involved youth and young adults with disabilities, including identifying stakeholders and how they can better meet the needs of impacted individuals.

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